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ESPN’s GameDay Plans Changes

Jason Barrett

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The goal of any executive who runs a sports studio show is to create compelling (and hopefully authentic) conversation, and that is what GameDay coordinating producer Lee Fitting is charged with every Saturday morning. He will not be afforded uninterrupted two-hour blocs, given that ESPN isn’t PBS, but as the coordinating producer of the network’s most successful studio production, Fitting has a lot of freedom and power on the direction of his show. He has a massively successful product — GameDay expanded to three hours last year (9:00 a.m.-noon ET on Saturdays) and averaged 1,830,000 viewers, a 10 percent increase over the same period on ESPN in 2012 — but plans to make some changes he believes will improve the editorial flow. The show opens its new season at Sundance Square Fort Worth on August 30 in advance of the Cowboys Classic between Florida State and Oklahoma State. The game will air that night on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Below, I examined some of the changes.

• GameDay will have limited commercials in its opening hour this year as viewers will get long stretches of conversation, with an aim toward hardcore football fans. “I think we need to have stronger opinions and more opinions, but do so organically,” Fowler said. “I think one of the reasons GameDay has had its long-term success is we don’t force things in merely for theater.

• Fitting says the show is looking to add a full-time DJ to keep the crowds (mostly of college students) entertained. The DJ will occasionally appear on air, and the hope is to hire a woman in the role. “One of the challenges we have run into with the show going three hours is we are asking the kids to be out there for 3-5 hours and they lose energy,” Fitting said. “So we thought: Why don’t we bring a DJ out that plays music off air during breaks? You keep the crowd energized and it becomes more of a party.” This person would then slowly become on-air talent for GameDay. Fitting said that since the show is “overloaded with middle-age males,” his preference was to get a female DJ.

• Fowler’s schedule is obviously a major story, since he has replaced Brent Musburger on the ABC Saturday Night Game. He said he is doing specific game prep earlier than he has done before and already knows what ABC’s second Saturday Night Football game will be — it has not been announced yet. The travel schedule he and Herbstreit will likely employ will involve arriving on Thursdays at one of the schools playing in the Saturday Night game, and then flying Friday to theGameDay site if the site is different from their game. “It’s not about Saturdays — Saturdays are just about having the stamina to do it,” Fowler said. “It’s how you make it work from Sunday to Thursday before you go on site.”

Added Fitting: “We are not blowing up how we operate during the week. I told my bosses that I could see our guys for the first time all week at 8 a.m. Saturday and we will be good. Chris will not let this fail in terms of doing both. The way in which he hosts GameDay will not be affected. He will restructure the way he organizes his week to make this work.”

• As for how long Fowler will do the GameDay-Saturday night double, ESPN executive vice president John Wildhack told SI.com in April that “ours and Chris’s focus is on the upcoming season. We always evaluate each and every season in detailed scrutiny.” Fowler agreed on that timeframe.

“There is no way I perceive it being a long-term thing,” Fowler said. “I view everything either year by year or even week by week. I’m pretty good at staying micro. Management’s job is to look longer term. An announcer’s job is to look at the next assignment and do it well. I want to see if I am enjoying GameDay and if it is not too busy.

• The dream celebrity pickers once again include President Barack Obama and golfer Tiger Woods. ESPN has been in contact with the White House — Fitting said Obama is interested – but there is no set date and it would obviously only work if the President’s schedule deemed it so. Fitting said he also spoke with Woods’ caddy, Joe LaCava, a month ago and Woods is interested in doing it. Again, the schedule has to work.

• As for a new dream celebrity picker: Fitting said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is high on the list. “We have always wanted Hugh Hefner,” he said. “I don’t know or care if he has a connection to a school. He’d be fun.”

• Fitting said Fowler and Herbstreit’s game assignment will not dictate whereGameDay goes. Last year, GameDay went to eight ABC/ESPN games and seven non-ESPN/ABC games. “I can promise you we will not be going to sites just because Fowler and Herbstreit will be there,” Fitting said. “Our bosses have been great. They have always said, “Go where you need to go.”

• Corso, who turns 79 in August, is not going anywhere anytime soon. “This is a topic that I lose zero sleep over and spend little time thinking about,” Fitting said of Corso’s eventual replacement. “I don’t see him shutting it down anytime soon. He is in great health. At times his speech is slurred as he knows, we know and the viewer knows. To me, for what he brings to the show, the sport and the chemistry of the show, I can handle a handful of slurred words for everything else he brings.”

• ESPN said the first week of GameDay will be the 240th headgear selection for Corso. His first-week record picking games is 9-6 all-time.

• Fitting said GameDay will talk more gambling this year in an organic way. “We will weave in naturally more gambling references and tips and information,” Fitting said. “But it won’t scream gambling. I think gamblers will pick up on it, but non-gamblers will not be turned away. I like gambling information when it appeals to the non-gamblers.

• Week Two is already locked up as a venue but the show will not announce it until that week. An educated guess is Eugene, Ore., as Michigan State at Oregon will be a tasty option.

• If Georgia and South Carolina are undefeated for Week Three, it is a near-lockGameDay will be in Columbia, SC for that game.

• SEC Network contributor Paul Finebaum will be on GameDay again even with his new job. Fitting said Finebaum will appear either via satellite in the first hour of the show or as part of a segment when he is not appearing on the SEC Network’s SEC Nation pregame show. Viewers should also expect SEC Network staffers Tebow and Marcus Spears to show up on GameDay occasionally. The reverse will also occur, as Pollack will appear on SEC Nation. The cross-promotion will exist, Fitting said, when the editorial dictates it.

• Fitting said GameDay staffers loved going to Fargo, N.D., last year and he would consider going again.

• Fowler is more than just the host of the show: Think of him as GameDay’s co-CEO with Fitting. Fowler said the toughest part of his dual role this year will be juggling the early part of the college football season when it intersects with the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I don’t want to give up the U.S. Open; it’s important to me,” Fowler said.

• The national semifinal games will have dueling studio sets in Pasadena, Calif., and New Orleans, and the studio hosting will be split up between Rece Davis, John Saunders, Joe Tessitore, Scott Van Pelt, Chris Cotter, Sam Ponder and perhaps even Fowler. “How they are involved we have not figured that out yet,” Fitting said.

For the rest of the article visit Sports Illustrated where it was originally published

Sports Radio News

Jonathan Zaslow No Longer With WQAM

An attempt to reach out to Zaslow for comment went unanswered.

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WQAM midday host Jonathan Zaslow is no longer with WQAM in Miami.

The radio station has removed his show from the website and references to him and his normal 10a-2p ET midday timeslot program have been scrubbed from the station website.

Zaslow tweeted at 5:19p ET confirming the news.

Whether or not this has any effect on his involvement with the Miami Heat broadcasts is unknown as of now.

Barry Jackson, a veteran journalist with the Miami Herald, reports that 790 The Ticket morning hosts Brendan Tobin and Leroy Hoard will move to that 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. WQAM slot during the week of Oct. 3.

In more station movement, Joe Rose’s WQAM morning show with Zach Krantz now will be simulcast on The Ticket, replacing the Tobin/Hoard program. Audacy, which owns both WQAM and The Ticket, also simulcast Marc Hochman’s and Channing Crowder’s afternoon show.

Zaslow had been with 790 the Ticket since 2004. He was transitioned from Audacy-owned 790 to sister station AM 560 Sports WQAM last October. During his tenure he has worked with a number of established local voices including Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, Brett Romberg, and Brendan Tobin amongst others.

WQAM has gone thru a number of changes, including a rebranding effort to call the station “560 The Joe”. That ended last year with the station returning to the AM 560 Sports WQAM brand listeners were more familiar with. What they have planned next in Zaslow’s timeslot is unclear but local listeners will likely get some answers next week.

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Sports Radio News

Vanessa Richardson Named Houston Rockets Sideline Reporter, Paul Gallant to Host Solo on ESPN 97.5

Vanessa Richardson will be on the sidelines for the Houston Rockets and Paul Gallant will host solo show on ESPN 97.5.

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Vanessa and Gallant

Changes are taking place in Houston sports media. First, the Houston Rockets will have a new television sideline reporter this season, and she’s a familiar name to Houston sports fans.

Vanessa Richardson, the now former co-host of ESPN 97.5’s Vanessa and Gallant, revealed that she will be on the sidelines for the NBA franchise covering the team for AT&T SportsNet Southwest.

She tweeted the news saying, “Elated to be the new Houston Rockets sideline reporter! I can’t wait to travel the country & share the stories of this dynamic team during 80+ games on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. I’ll continue to fill-in as a host/reporter for Astros broadcasts as well.”

Richardson’s co-host, Paul Gallant, tweeted that with Richardson leaving the show for the Rockets sideline gig, Vanessa and Gallant will become the Paul Gallant Show. The solo show led by Gallant begins Monday September 26th.

“We’re excited to have Paul host his own show”, said Todd Farquharson, General Manager of ESPN 97.5 & 92.5.  “He’s super creative, energetic, and likeable.  He’ll get the audience involved and have fun.”

Paul commented, “You know what I’ve always loved about sports talk radio?  That it’s interactive.  Whether through a phone call, text message, tweet or on Twitch, it’s the best place for sports fans to come together and celebrate…or vent.  And that’s what The Paul Gallant Show is going to be…Houston’s platform to talk about its teams. THE most interactive sports talk show in Houston.”

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Sports Radio News

Ken Carman: Al Michaels ‘Feels Untethered’ On Amazon Prime Video

“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”

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The Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers during Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video. 92.3 The Fan morning host Ken Carman applauded Al Michaels for his performance during the presentation.

“Al Michaels feels untethered for the first time. He’s not network television anymore and he can say whatever he wants. We interviewed him on the pregame show and I was nervous,” Carman said.

“He’s a legend,” co-host Anthony Lima added.

During the final play of the game, the Steelers fumbled a lateral into the endzone which the Browns recovered to make the final score 29-17. Michaels said “that may be meaningful to some of you. And you know who I mean”, alluding to people who had placed wagers on the game.

Carman, who hosts two-hours of pre-game coverage on the Browns Radio Network, continued to discuss how nervous he was interviewing Michaels. He also discussed how impressive Amazon’s behind-the-scenes production was, pointing out the only football broadcast with more cameras is the Super Bowl. More than 400 people work behind the scenes for Amazon Prime Video.

“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”

Carman later said people angry that Michaels misspoke by saying the Pro Football Hall of Fame is “down I-71” instead of I-77 were unreasonable, and joked “Al Michaels hasn’t been on a highway in 20 years”.

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